August 2, 2016, the Reading School District’s Administration and School Board
learned I-LEAD Charter School was distributing a two-page flyer to the public,
apparently in an effort to get more students to enroll in the school. The flyer
contains numerous statements about the Charter School and the District that are
either false or misleading.
As a result, the District presents this Fact Sheet to ensure that accurate information is provided to the public. For those of you who have not read the Charter School’s flyer, we have provided a recitation of the Charter School’s allegation, followed by the District’s response.
The Fact Sheet is included below. Full testimony from the public hearings is available at www.ReadingSD.org/ILeadRevocation.
Allegation: “The Reading School Board of Directors wants to strip away a parents’ [sic] right to choose their children’s education.”
The Facts: The School Board did not revoke the school’s charter because it wanted to limit parental choice. To the contrary, it revoked the charter for the reasons stated in a 31-page adjudication and order dated May 25, 2016. This document is available for download on the District’s website at: www.ReadingSD.org/ILeadRevocation.
The revocation decision was made after the school received written notice of the reasons for possible revocation and after many days of hearings held in public, during which the Charter School was represented by counsel of its choosing and presented evidence and witnesses of its choosing.
Allegation: “The Reading School Board of Directors made decisions regarding your child’s future in secret meetings conducted in violation of Pennsylvania constitutional law called the Sunshine Act.”
The Facts: To the extent the Charter School may be trying to imply that the Sunshine Act is part of the Pennsylvania Constitution, that is not true. The Sunshine Act is a collection of statutes enacted by the General Assembly. More importantly, no authority has determined that a Sunshine Act violation occurred. To be sure, the District complied with the Sunshine Act in all matters related to the revocation, and the School Board made the decisions regarding the revocation (as well as the Charter School’s charter amendment request) in public and at advertised board meetings.
Allegation: “Key business and community leaders do not want black and brown students on Penn Street, and that is why they are illegally trying to close I-LEAD Charter School. Big CORPORATE MONEY is in the pocket of the majority of school board members.”
The Facts: The District was and is not motivated in any way to achieve what the Charter School so recklessly and casually alleges. The Charter School’s own improper actions, failure to comply with laws and its poor academic performance were the cause of the revocation.
Allegation: “I-LEAD Charter School’s (ILCS) academic performance has risen steadily year after year. This is borne out by the data supplied by the Reading School District (RSD) at the district’s revocation hearing against ILCS, and was confirmed by Eric Turman when he was cross-examined.”
The Facts: The Charter School’s academic performance has risen from a very poor performance to a slightly-better poor performance. Regardless of the slight increase, the performance at the Charter School was significantly below the performance of students at Reading Senior High School. For the exact details of the Charter School’s performance compared to Reading Senior High School’s performance, see the Adjudications referred to above (www.ReadingSD.org/ILeadRevocation). Because of that poor performance and the Charter School’s failure to comply with various laws that govern its operations, the Charter School has failed to meet the requirements of the Charter School Law or the intent of the General Assembly for the expected performance of charter schools.
Allegation: “I-LEAD Charter School timely filed Annual Reports with RSD and PDE year after year. In addition, I-LEAD Charter School went above and beyond to generate independent reports that documented the school’s successes and challenges with its student population (consisting of dropouts and at-risk students). RSD never responded to those reports and never conducted a single assessment of I-LEAD Charter School as required by the Charter School Law and RSD’s own policy. RSD could not even uphold its obligations – which it now describes as ‘oversight’ – when only one charter school was operating within its district.”
The Facts: The District finds it interesting that in this paragraph the Charter School states that its student population consists of “dropouts and at-risk students” but in a later paragraph refers to those students as “variable[s] beyond the school’s control.” These statements are not just a disservice to the Charter School’s own students, they are thoroughly disingenuous. The school’s top-level administrators and board members testified that the Charter School’s entire purpose and mission was to track down and educate “dropouts and at-risk students.” Now that the Charter School is being taken to task for not sufficiently educating those students, it callously refers to them as “variables beyond its control.” That is quite disappointing to the District, and it should be noted by the public. The public should also know that, during the hearings when Charter School employees and board members were asked about the student population of their own school, they could not provide details about the demographics of their own school and the students that they say they serve, including how many of the students are or were actually dropouts.
The Charter School alleges the District was required to conduct annual assessments of the school under the Charter School Law. That statement is untrue, in light of the authorities cited in the Adjudication. See Adjudication, p. 23, paragraph 3, citing Imani Education Circle Charter School v. School District of Philadelphia, Docket No. CAB 2014-08 (2016) at 26-29 (there is no provision in the CSL that requires an annual report to be delivered to a charter school).
The District’s current administration has been assessing the Charter School’s operations since the 2014-2015 school year, and the assessment determined that the Charter School was not meeting the requirements of the Charter School Law. Those assessments ultimately led to the commencement of the revocation proceedings.
Allegation: “Once I-LEAD Charter School moved into the 401 Penn Street building, all of a sudden the District: (1) appealed the school’s zoning; (2) appealed the tax assessment; and (3) threatened revocation. School District and City officials held this over the ILCS’s head in attempts to gain political support.”
The Facts: The Charter School contends that after the school moved to 401 Penn Street the District appealed the school’s zoning and tax assessment in an attempt to gain political support. This statement is baseless and completely untrue. The District filed appeals because it had legitimate reasons to do so, includingto ensure that taxes are appropriately paid in accordance with law by all businesses and entities choosing to locate and do business within the District.
Allegation: “Pennsylvania’s policy leaders understand that the current School Performance Profile (SPP) system, and the Keystone exams upon which the SPP is based, is a broken one that does a poor job of measuring school effectiveness. Dr. Edward Fuller, a leading educational researcher who has personally advised the Chair of the Senate Education Committee (Sen. Dinniman), was able to analyze I-LEAD Charter School’s performance results. Once variables beyond the school’s control (such as the types of students it enrolls) were controlled for, I-LEAD Charter School’s performance in 2014-15 was considered equal to or better than 67.8% of schools in the state.”
The Facts: The Charter School claims that the school performance accountability system on which it was judged is broken. However, that same system is currently in use and has been adopted by the General Assembly, the State Board of Education, the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the State Charter School Appeal Board as the basis to review the academic performance of all schools in Pennsylvania, not just Charter Schools. A Charter School’s poor performance under a legally-mandated accountability system is not excused simply because a witness who was hired and paid by the Charter School believes that the system is unfair to the Charter School. Also, the public should know that this same witness applied the same evaluation criteria—criteria that he invented—to the Reading Senior High School, and he judged the academic performance of Reading Senior High School to be superior in almost all respects to that of the Charter School. He also found Reading Senior High School’s academic performance to be superior to the performance of most other high schools in Pennsylvania.
Allegation: “RSD accused I-LEAD Charter School of filing untimely audits, yet RSD Assistant Superintendent Chris Celmer admitted in court that the District has not filed a timely audit in years.”
The Facts: Evidence established that some of the Charter School’s audits were, in fact, not filed in a timely manner. Regardless, however, the Board’s Adjudication states that the untimely filing of audits was ultimately not a reason for the revocation. See the Adjudication on revocation, p. 24.
Allegations: “RSD accused I-LEAD Charter School of a failure to have highly Qualified Teachers. I-LEAD Charter School’s faculty consists of 100% Highly Qualified Teachers.”
The Facts: In an attempt to mislead, the Charter School states that the District accused it of not having Highly Qualified Teachers but that “[its] faculty consists of 100% Highly Qualified Teachers.” The evidence presented at the hearing established that the Charter School violated the Highly Qualified Teacher standards of the No Child Left Behind Act during the 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years. See the Adjudication on revocation, p. 26. The District does not know whether or not the Charter School has 100% Highly Qualified Teachers today as it now claims, but clearly the Charter School is not disputing that it did not have 100% Highly Qualified Teachers during the years relevant to the revocation proceedings.
These are not all of the District’s disagreements with the statements made in the flyer, but they hopefully convey a better picture of the actual facts to the residents of the Reading School District.